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Uno: a corpus linguistic investigation of intersubjectivity and gender

Issue: Vol 4 No. 1 (2020) Special issue: Indexing gender, culture and cognition

Journal: Journal of Language and Discrimination

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jld.40129


Generic masculines – masculine forms used for women – are employed in many languages, for example English (Mills 2008), French (Coady 2018), Spanish (Bengoechea 2011) and German (Motschenbacher 2016), providing accounts of how gender is made visible in the language through morphological, lexical and syntactic units. These accounts are also linked with how gender is seen in societies and culture, reproducing an imbalance between women and men. Specifically, language discrimination against women is based on the idea that speakers orient themselves towards androcentric language, recognising ‘men’ as a metonym for the group ‘human being’ (Alvanoudi 2014), causing a linguistic invisibility of women.

Similarly, studies in Italian have also discussed the use of masculine forms to refer to, talk about and describe women (Cavagnoli 2013), or have shown how these are used in specialised (Nardone 2016, 2018) or media corpora (Formato 2014, 2016, 2019). This article investigates the use of a specific (and underexamined) generic masculine in Italian – namely, the indefinite pronoun (in comparison with labelled ‘impersonal masculine’ (Formato 2019:69) – in three subcorpora of the Perugia Corpus (TV, Web and Spoken; Spina 2014). is seen as constructing ‘extended intersubjectivity’, that is, the awareness of a general third party (3rdP) acting as the social bearer of the utterance (Tantucci 2013, 2016, 2017a). The results show that the masculine impersonal is widely used in the three subcorpora and in several functions, confirming that grammatically gendered language is still employed within a ‘masculine as a norm’ order.

Author: Federica Formato, Vittorio Tantucci

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